Used to converted more than 13,000 Chineseby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
For the love of God, Jonathan Goforth spent most of his life sowing seed.
Jonathan grew up with ten siblings in London, Ontario, where he was born on February 10, 1859. His parents, Francis Goforth and Jane Bates, had immigrated there, after their marriage, from England.
Jonathan's mother made him start reading the Psalms at age five. Soon, he memorized so much no one would listen to him recite it. As a young boy, Jonathan was constantly reading the Bible and had a longing to learn more about God and be one of his children, but it was not until he was eighteen when he finally committed his life to Christ.
Jonathan always had the dream of becoming an accomplished lawyer and politician. He would often practice speeches behind his house and have heated discussions with himself. Until the day when his father-in-law gave him a book to read: The Memoirs of Robert Murray M'Cheyne. This drastically changed his life for through this book God revealed His calling for Jonathan to become a minister. Since that day he became incredibly involved in his church. He taught a Sunday school class and handed out tracks at the door, but he was still unsatisfied and started a Sunday night church service in the rickety, old schoolhouse. He even started family worship every night in his home, which eventually led to his father's salvation. It was not until later when he heard G. L. MacKay preach and give an invitation to become a missionary, did he decide to serve the Lord in China.
Goforth went to Knox College to ready himself for the mission field; college life was not what he expected. Jonathan was cruelly ridiculed and rejected because he was a poor farm boy, and his clothes were considered shabby in comparison with the big city styles. Soon, however his classmates learned and grew to respect this young man who was on fire for the Lord. They admired Jonathan's passion and determination for missions, and when he did not receive a reply form the China Inland Mission, his classmates were the ones who raised the money for him to go to China.
Jonathan met Rosalind Smith, a rich young lady who had been raised in England, at the Toronto Union Mission in 1885. They were married the next year, the same year of Jonathan's graduation. Goforth was ordained by his church with J. Fraser Smith, and in February 1888 the Goforths, and their companion, finally sailed for China.
Goforth went to China with the Presbyterian Church of Canada. He and the other original Canadian Presbyterian missionaries (including 2 physicians and a nurse) aimed for what was then known as Honan [now Henan] province. This was the first group of Canadian missionaries in China. Although it took them a few years to get there, they were headed for Changte [now Anyang], and eventually established churches, schools and three major hospitals in the region [Anyang, Weihui, Huaiqing].
There, they struggled to adapt to the culture and Jonathan had an especially hard time with the Chinese language. Jonathan and Rosalind had eleven children, five of which died as young children or infants. The Goforths had many different techniques of evangelizing; one technique was the "open house" method. Chinese people were interested in their way of life and so, to reach out, the Goforths would give tours through their home. Other missionaries did not approve of this, but the Goforths continued in this practice anyway. They also used the traditional method of plain, old preaching and Jonathan soon became known as the "Flaming Preacher". He would preach to over 25,000 people at a time.
At the turn of the century the Boxer Rebellion broke out which targeted western influences such as foreign missionaries. Coping with these dangers were other missionaries such as Hudson Taylor, and Lottie Moon. Most missionaries fled south to escape the angry boxers. Jonathan was on his way to a dock when his group was attacked by a mob and Jonathan was almost beat to death. Nevertheless, they escaped with God's help.
Jonathan returned as soon as possible the next year, and his wife and children joined him in 1902. Five years later Jonathan and Smith took part in a life-changing revival in Korea. Jonathan was enlightened and encouraged by this and his ministries flourished under the influence. The Goforths became incredibly involved in the ministry and by 1912 eight Chinese pastors had been trained. Just three years later, Jonathan was awarded the Doctorate of Divinity from Knox College. Goforth was an active force in the mission, but of course he did not act alone. He remained, however, true to his evangelical roots, and became dismayed as the mission became increasingly geared toward medical service rather than evangelism. In 1925, the Presbyterian mission became officially subsumed into the new “United Church of Canada”, as did the Methodist and Congregationalist churches in Canada. This was controversial at the time, and many Presbyterians, including Goforth, feared the direction the church was taking. There was a breakaway Presbyterian church, and Goforth left the mission he helped to establish, to work with more “orthodox” missions in the far north of China.
Sadly enough, Jonathan went completely blind in 1933 and, because of health complications, was forced to return to Canada the next year. Even so, Jonathan did not let his infirmities hinder his work for the Lord. Although he continued preaching in Canadian churches until the year of his death in 1936, his preaching was unfortunately not accepted in many pulpits.
Jonathan Goforth started learning about God when he was only five years old, and served Him until his death on October 8, 1936. During the forty-six years he was on the mission field he set up thirty-one mission stations, trained sixty-one native Chinese pastors, and converted more than 13,000 Chinese people. He helped lay a foundation for the church to build on even as it grew underground.
The the Japanese invasion and the ongoing civil war between the Nationalists under Chaing Kai Shek and the Communists under Mao Zedong forced out nearly all foreign missionaries, including the Canadian missionaries in 1947. Christians have sown the seeds of gospel message with great difficulty and persecution since those earliest missionaries arrived in China. No doubt one of young Jonathan's favorite promises from the Psalms was, “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” (Psalms 126:5-6).
Since 1995, the church that Goforth helped to establish in Anyang (Henan province) back in 1888 has been growing steadily. A church in near Jonathan's original home seats 3000 and another church he helped establish is now comprised of around 80,000 members.
Jonathan Goforth loved God, served Him through sorrow and joy, and spent his life for a plentiful harvest of sheaves. "Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit" (John 12:24).